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Regional hospitality operators say they are turning away large numbers of people who appear to be Melburnians breaching health orders restricting them to the city.

Police in Bendigo will meet with hospitality industry representatives next week to discuss the problem, which has prompted fears in regional communities of coronavirus infections spreading from Melbourne.

Bendigo Tourism Board chairman Finn Vedelsby lost 20 per cent of bookings at his venue one night when he told patrons they’d need to show ID.Credit:Joe Armao

Regional Victoria was released from lockdown last week but the state government has resisted putting up a so-called “ring of steel” – a hard border manned by police to prevent people leaving the city – like the one deployed around Melbourne last year.

Restaurants and cafes must check the identification of all patrons to ensure they are legitimate residents of regional Victoria and not subject to lockdown restrictions.

Warrnambool Hotel publican Stephen Phillpot said he had turned away about 70 people who appeared to be from Melbourne. He said the problem was most pronounced in the first five days after regional Victoria reopened, and some people became angry when refused service after producing identification with Melbourne postcodes.

“Some people don’t understand and some people get angry,” he said. “There’s some denial about it as well. They say, ‘What do you mean? What are you talking about?’ ”

Melburnians have reportedly tried to enter hospitality venues in Bendigo against public health orders. Credit:Justin McManus

Mr Phillpot said other hospitality operators in Warrnambool had encountered similar situations, but he had not needed to call police.

Warrnambool mayor Vicki Jellie said it was disappointing some Melburnians appeared to have breached public health orders.

“Regionally, we’ve been lucky to be out of the main lockdown for over a week now,” she said. “But anything can happen to change that. We all need to be very careful.”

Bendigo Tourism Board chairman Finn Vedelsby said he lost 20 per cent of bookings at his venue, The Dispensary, in one night when he rang ahead to tell customers they needed to show ID confirming they lived in regional Victoria.

“It’s worse than frustrating,” he said. “It’s frightening. People clearly are not following the rules and there are still untraced cases in Melbourne.”

He said operators would seek advice in a meeting with police scheduled for Monday next week.

Mr Vedelsby said other business owners had been forced to turn away even higher numbers of people thought to be Melburnians. “People are trying to escape.”

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said there were 200 officers patrolling the border of Greater Melbourne and regional Victoria every day. “At the same time we have our police divisional vans and patrol cars in all of those regional areas, more particularly the tourist-type areas.”

Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent speaking to media on Wednesday. Credit:Eddie Jim

He confirmed police had issued just one fine overnight into Wednesday to someone attempting to enter regional Victoria from Melbourne.

Mr Nugent said police were identifying cars registered in Melbourne and conducting checks. He said police were targeting areas including Daylesford, Trentham, Mornington Peninsula and the Dandenongs.

Hepburn Shire mayor Lesley Hewitt said some shop and restaurant owners in Daylesford had reported turning people away. “Our businesses have been very diligent in checking photo ID and making sure people check in,” she said.

The Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula regions have experienced similar issues. Greater Geelong mayor Stephanie Asher said local businesspeople had reported unpleasant encounters with Melburnians.

Traders in Daylesford say they have refused to serve people from the city. Credit:Sandy Scheltema

“We certainly have had local shop owners and employees who’ve had to turn people away,” she said. “Sometimes they’ve received abuse for that, which is unfortunate.”

Bass Coast Shire chief executive Ali Wastie said Melburnians had tried to gain entry to venues in her council area despite a strong police presence. “I know it’s an issue,” she said.

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